4 Ways to Get Ahead While Working for a Tough Boss

Boss commanding worker

By Lisa Aldisert

Mid-career professionals often face the pyramid challenge: What got you to this stage of your career isn’t what will take you to the next level. If you work for an organization like this, it means that several people will be vying for their next big move. It also means that what has made you promotable so far might not be relevant for the next step.

Getting that next promotion and succeeding at work can be especially challenging when your manager is difficult, or the two of you just don’t click. It’s all about learning how to work with your boss effectively so that you accomplish organizational goals, and also get the opportunity to showcase your talent and potential.

It’s not just about skills

Your abilities will get you to a certain level of success, but then less tangible issues can take over. The lack of concreteness in these factors often results in failure to recognize exactly what is preventing you from taking that next step. I have an extremely talented client, Charlene, who works for a global organization in a key role. She was hired as a mid-career professional, rather than a recent college graduate. This is relevant in her case because her manager’s experiences are mostly with people in their mid-twenties.

Charlene works diligently, tirelessly, and successfully, but she hasn’t taken the time to learn the intangible factors that will get her to the next level at this company. For example, her boss, Tom, expects her to work the same way that eager 20-somethings do, and that is just not her style at this stage in her career.

She has missed the boat on two strikes. First, she never took the time to learn the internal politics, networks, and relationships within her organization. Although she consistently demonstrates strong performance (based on how she produces across the organization), Tom expects her to fall in line like a young worker.

Second, she didn’t recognize the importance of “managing up.” Tom has a bit of an ego … and so does Charlene. She conveys, “Hey, look what I accomplished!” while he is waiting for her to make him look good. Right or wrong, this is a problem.

I don’t know whether Tom is threatened or just doesn’t like her, but because she doesn’t do her work his way, he has shut down any opportunities for her to be promoted.

Learn the politics

When I raise this subject with clients, they often whine for the same reason Charlene did: What do politics have to do with my diverse and exceptional accomplishments? Unfortunately, a lot.

I’ve seen dozens of talented people over the years get tripped up at this point. One tax partner in a CPA firm was getting frozen out by his manager because he didn’t speak up effectively in meetings; a senior associate in a law firm was sidestepped because her “executive presence” wasn’t appropriate.

In a perfect world, you’d work for someone who would show you the way around these obstacles. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as much when you’re a mid-career employee. They think you should know better.

The moral of the story is you must deduce what you need to know about the internal politics, including what is important to your manager, and pay attention.

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Managing up while staying authentic

You’re smart, accomplished, and have been successful in everything you did before working for your current boss, yet suddenly your experience and talent take second fiddle. It can be a frustrating road block, but it happens to most of us. By implementing techniques that will help you with any boss at any organization, you’ll be able to set yourself up for success. Here are four things you can do to start to stack the deck in your favor.

1. Learn what’s important to your boss. Is it attention to detail? Copying him on emails? Letting him be the hero even if you’ve done most of the work? Observe how your manager operates, especially when he is pleased with others who work for him. You don’t have to compromise your values, but making some small adaptations will go a long way.

2. Speak the boss’s language. Everyone has some language patterns and attributes that are unique. I’m not suggesting that you clone your voice and speech habits; I am suggesting that you pay attention and enter the conversation in ways that are comfortable for your boss.

3. Know the boss’s hot buttons. If your boss chronically complains about certain things, make sure you never do these things. Period. If you don’t do them, they can’t be a source of complaint.

4. Find a mentor who understands and supports you. Don’t try to go this one alone. Find someone who knows how good you are and ask for that person’s guidance.

You have to evaluate how much you are willing to compromise to get ahead. I don’t believe anybody should change who they are to move forward, because that is never sustainable. But if your ultimate goal is to work in a higher position, it’s worth the exercise of self-evaluation to critically calculate what might be holding you up.

By the way, don’t assume that it’s just your organization. I can almost guarantee that if you’re facing these issues at your current company, you’re likely to see them again if you leave and go elsewhere.

RELATED: The Key to a Successful Career Shift: You Are the Hero of Your Story

About the Author

Post by: Lisa Aldisert

Dr. Lisa Aldisert is a speaker, author, and business advisor based in New York City. She is the president of Pharos Alliance. Her latest book is Leadership Reflections: 52 Leadership Practices in the Age of Worry. (www.lisaaldisert.com)

Company: Pharos Alliance
Website: www.lisaaldisert.com
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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